How can I get released from my lease agreement?
September 3, 2013 6:13 PM   Subscribe

When I moved into my apartment with my roommate, the manager at the time said we could remove or add roommates as we pleased and could even add a roommate and remove ourselves off the lease completely if we wanted to move away before the lease was up, so long as we notified the manager and signed a form. I am considering moving out before the lease ends. We now have a new manager and when I checked with her, she says this is not true, that I cannot be removed from the lease at all even if my roommate agrees to it. However, I looked over my lease and it seems to say that I absolutely CAN do that, as long as everyone agrees. (See extended for the exact lease quote.)

My lease expires January 2014. For a variety of reasons, moving out would be the best choice for me and I cannot wait another six months to do it.

When I looked over my lease, it says this:

"OCCUPANCY. The Tenant agrees that only those persons listed below shall occupy the Premises:

[[[ My Name; My Rooomate's Name]]]

No person shall be released from the covenants of the Lease without first obtaining the written agreement of the other tenants and/or cosigners Set forth herein and written approval of changes from the Landlord. If such changes are agreed upon, all parties herein agree to make the necessary changes to the Lease before changes are valid."

To me, this says that so long as my roommate agrees and the manager signs off, I am allowed to take myself off the lease and "be released" from the legal obligations of the lease. I didn't have my lease in hand when I called the manager (I was at work) so I wasn't able to refer to the exact language when I talked to her. She said that I am legally responsible for the rent until the lease expires in January and there is no option to add/remove a person. She said that's "corporate policy."

Am I misinterpreting or is she being difficult? I know You Are Not My Lawyer, but any insights? Help me get out of this place! I hate it.
posted by brista to Law & Government (15 answers total)
No person shall be released from the covenants of the Lease without first obtaining… written approval of changes from the Landlord.

This says you have to get the approval of the landlord to go off the lease. And she says she doesn't want to give it to you.

This often is not the full story and you would need to talk to a lawyer or tenant organization in your area to find out what your actual rights are, but the bit of contract you put up here says the exact opposite of what you want.
posted by grouse at 6:18 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

By the wording of your contract, your manager must agree. She doesn't agree, and is no way obligated to. But forget about the wording of the contract for a second.

Why would the manager agree to this? What's in it for them? From their standpoint, your roommate is now responsible for double his rent payment, which they surely see as increasing their risk. Your best bet here is the same as in any "breaking up with your roommate" situation- find a new roommate.
posted by mkultra at 6:19 PM on September 3, 2013

I'm no lawyer (my only training is L&O which I know =0% of law degree completed), but it looks to me like you have to have the manager's approval plus the approval of everyone on the lease.

When my wife and I were living with people and getting/losing roommates we had to reapply every time. First all 3 of us had to apply separately. Then when the roommate left my wife and I had to apply again. Then when we added a roommate we had to apply again. Because for some reason we could afford to live their by ourselves but suddenly couldn't afford it when we added another roommate...

Anyway, the office needs to cover their ass. Without approval from the management you could have people apply who have the ability to pay leave and let people who can't pay onto the lease. The management has a right to not let people into a lease that they people won't be able to pay.

From a more practical side, it sounds like she's being unreasonable. Even at my current place where it's cheaper for us to pay an extra month's rent than to leave early to move into our house [/grumble] I could get someone to take over our lease and as long as the rental application was fine we'd be good to go.
posted by theichibun at 6:21 PM on September 3, 2013

I believe that sometimes, sometimes, clauses like "... and written approval of changes from the Landlord" can be construed to mean that the Landlord has to approve unless he or she has a "reasonable" reason not to.

So, maybe if you live in the right kind of jurisdiction, and can find a new tenant who fits all of the rational "ability to pay/creditworthiness" standards that you do, you might be able to go to court to compel the Landlord to approve the switch.

But a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction would have to tell you what your chances of having that happen are.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:33 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, this is something that often happens when management changes hands. Your old manager was basically saying she'd not have a problem with this. Your new manager is saying that she does. She's not legally obligated to release you from your lease. (Your old manager wasn't either, it just sounds like she was more willing to do so.)

If you can find a sublessor they might let you out of the lease, but that's a strong might.
posted by sm1tten at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2013

There may be a tenants' rights organization in your jurisdiction that can advise you about the rules in your area. Some quick googling may turn up good resources.

I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer, and I don't know where you're located and what special rules may apply in your jurisdiction; landlord / tenant law often has some unpredictable and unique flavors in different jurisdictions. Personally, FWIW, I read that provision as saying you're up a creek if the manager/LL doesn't want to consent; that's not language that strikes me as being helpful to you at all. But again, check with a lawyer in your jurisdiction; I'm not your lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Good luck.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:42 PM on September 3, 2013

Can you sublet? Can you get a roommate to replace you on the lease?

Your new manager isn't nice a doesn't want to deal with hassle. Make this as easy as possible on them and they might agree.

Go talk to the manager in person and be really nice about it. Try to find out what your options are.

If this is some kind of corporation, if talking got me no where, I would 100% escalate this up the corporate ladder and I would not take "No" for an answer.

It's totally possible to do this, your new manager is feeding you bullshit.

Be persistent.
posted by jbenben at 7:03 PM on September 3, 2013

Some people have hinted at this, but:

A. this is INCREDIBLY regional. Like, this varies from city to city within the same state. A lot.

B. This is something that no one on here could answer without knowing your location, and either being a housing lawyer or someone with experience in the local system/a knowledgeable landlord in your area.

The general answer to this though, from what i've seen, is no. If a lease was signed to 4 people, or 2, or 6, or whatever... the landlord won't want to decrease that number since in most leases(and areas where this is the legal standard) everyone on that lease has full liability for the entire rent amount or any damages. This is a fantastic ass-cover for the landlord since they can go after everyone for the full amount.

If only one person is on the lease, and that person is judgment proof or just skips down and disappears in general then they're on the hook for any damage or really anything else that person owed. If there's two or more people, the chances of recovering that shoot way up.

So yea, it's basically impossible to decrease the number of people on a lease. I've only seen it happen when it was a couple kicking the third roommate out, or a big place going from like 6 to 5 roommates. I've never actually seen anyone pull off the 2-to-1.

I've also been fucked by this situation in to subleasing to someone who wasn't on the lease just to pay the rent/to get out of a shithole. It seems like you might end up in a situation where you either illegally sublet the place to someone you know until then, or just sit it out.

I'm kinda doubting you can weasel your way out of this if they don't want you to. It's like trying to legally force a restaurant to sell you food or something.

But as i said, i have no experience on your specific area. Contact a tenants rights organization in your city.

Oh, as a real closing note, fighting this will likely take basically the remainder of the lease. You have oct-nov-dec here. three months. Who are you even going to find to rent a place for 3 months? You're pretty much limited to the illegally subletting to a friend who just moved to town or something by that time limit alone. I've stayed in fucking awful places for a bit longer than that because dealing with the awkward amount of time left and fighting the landlord Vs sitting it out just didn't parse on a cost/benefit for me.
posted by emptythought at 7:53 PM on September 3, 2013

I'm in Ohio. I would rather not just "tough it out" if there is any way to get out asap. I spend almost all of my time at my boyfriend's house because "my" house is absolutely filthy. I'm not an incredibly super-duper squeaky clean type of person but my roommate does not clean up her cat's poop on the floor, leaves dirty dishes and pots "soaking" (aka molding) in the sink for weeks at a time, has not cleaned the toilet in months, lets her cat pee and poop in my closet (connected to bathroom, no lock) which she does not clean up, ignores cat barf all over the house, broke the downstairs toilet four months ago and has still not called the landlord to fix it, has taken over the common areas with junk and boxes, leaves the trashcan overflowing and just piles up garbage next to it...

We've lived together almost 2 years...the first year, we had the conversations and agreed on who would do what chore and when and what the expectations were as far as common area cleanliness. But she always had a million excuses as to why she didn't/couldn't do something, so too many times, I would cave after a while and just do it myself so that I didn't have to smell moldy pots or step over garbage or use a dirty toilet. When I only cleaned my own dirty dishes and left hers alone, she didn't notice for five weeks and only noticed because she had a date coming over, then she claimed that there was no way all of those were hers because she does dishes "all the time."

Finally I got sick of it and basically stopped living there. I am in "my" house for exactly 9 hours once a week, during which I go straight to my room, sleep then wake up and leave for work. I do not use any dishes or leave any trash...I usually don't even take a shower there if I can avoid it. Yet I'm paying $500 plus water, electric, gas, and internet. And she always keeps the AC around 66* which means I am paying a LOT!

I just really cannot do it anymore. It's appalling. The house reeks. My roommate says if I leave before the lease is up I have to find a new roommate that she likes. How am I supposed to do that? No one decent would want to live in this pit. I sure don't. And I am tired of subsidizing her filthy house. She basically gets to live on her own for half the cost because she has forced me out of the house with actual garbage. It makes me livid.
posted by brista at 10:24 PM on September 3, 2013

And I understand it's only for a few more months...but (and I know I sound whiny, I'm sorry) it's not fair. The reason I can't live there is because she is filthy. Why should I have to keep paying for a house that I can't even live in, for utilities I can't use because of my roommate? That's $2000+ that I can't afford to be wasting like this.
posted by brista at 10:28 PM on September 3, 2013

This sounds like a situation in which you either suck it up and pay whatever the cost is to break the lease and walk away, or tough it out.

especially since

broke the downstairs toilet four months ago and has still not called the landlord to fix it,

And the cat peeing and pooping in your closet is kind of your responsibility. That damage will come out of your deposit, and it's just as much on you to report that to the landlord. The language you should use on the closet front is that they have an out of control pet which is damaging the property, and refuse to do anything about it. The cat barf should also be mentioned then.

Look, i lived in a place exactly like this(right down to acting like i was camping in my house, leave nothing but footprints style like you have been. i couldn't even cook there) and then somehow convinced myself to move in to an even worse place with the same people because i didn't have many other options. The real thing to do here is to pay to break the lease and go "have fun!" to the roommate. Breaking the lease probably costs less than the remaining months of rent and utilities, no?

If i was in this position again i'd explore removing yourself from the lease with the landlord(because yea, how are you really going to get another person to move in to that and pay the credit check fee and everything?) but really expect to just pay the cost to break the lease.

Because yea, who are you going to get to move in without misrepresenting the place or deep cleaning it before you start showing it to them?

I'm really trying to be sympathetic and helpful here because i've been there. But there is no magic solution that does everything you want here. You either pay, find someone who doesn't care who "she approves of" which will never happen, or move out. The best thing that could happen is your roommate starts dating another shitty slob who wants to move in and you get to bail. I wish i had realized this and paid to get out when i was in the same situation.
posted by emptythought at 10:33 PM on September 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm fully sympathetic to having a shitty, filthy, roommate and not wanting to subsidize her life [been there and done that], but you've abdicated responsibility here. You're both financially responsible for the filthy apartment with the broken toilet that you have leased, and just because you have effectively stopped living there doesn't change that.

You need to talk to the property manager and to your local tenants organization and find out what your options are.
posted by sm1tten at 6:08 AM on September 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

IAALBIANYL and this is not legal advice.

Is your manager the landlord? By the wording you posted, you need the landlord's agreement, not the manager's. Go over her head.
posted by mibo at 6:21 AM on September 4, 2013

Basically in any situation like this you are either going to have to break the lease and pay the breaklease fee, or find a replacement roommate.

In your case, it sounds like the better option is to pay to break the lease and say "good luck!" to your soon-to-be-ex-roommate. Sounds like your roommate is going to cause you to lose at least some of your security deposit, too, which sucks. Breaking the lease can be costly -- often it is several months' rent. Read your lease and ask your landlord. If you're not prepared to pay, it may be wise to hire a lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant laws in your area.

As for the toilet... I hate to say this, but you live in the apartment too (on paper, if not in practice); so why haven't you called to have it fixed? "Downstairs bathroom," to me, implies "common, shared area." I'd mention the cat issues as emptythought said above.

My experience with this sort of thing is a little different, but might perhaps be educational... in my case I had to find a replacement roommate and fill out the paperwork with my roommate, the new roommate, and the landlord. (However, my roommate kept the common areas clean, we had no pets, and while I didn't like that he only ever rinsed his dishes instead of actually washing them, at least he didn't leave them in the sink, and though his tub was full of green mold and I wondered how he could stand to shower, I had my own bathroom and shower that I kept clean. So it wasn't an "I need to get out because it sucks" situation, it was more an "I'm graduating and need to move elsewhere for my job" situation.) The landlord withheld my portion of the security deposit because the new roommate skipped out on his rent after his initial payment; since at that point, the paperwork had been signed and agreed to -- non-payment of rent on an apartment I was no longer responsible for rent on was Not My Problem, so I threatened in writing to sue in small claims court. I had my security deposit in hand the next business day and never needed to file the paperwork.
posted by tckma at 7:42 AM on September 4, 2013

She broke the downstairs toilet and did not call right away to get it fixed because she has the cats here illegally. Shortly around this time is when I started spending as much time as possible AWAY from my home, so I didn't think it was worth getting in a fight about especially because she promised she would call and get it taken care of that week. Since that conversation, she decided to start a home business and piled all that merchandise in the bathroom so even if I called maintenance, I would need to (a) hide the cats and all their stuff and (b) move all her junk out of the bathroom, which would make her mad.

I guess trying to get released from the lease is a moot point because I tried to talk to my roommate about it and she said there's no way she would agree to it even if I found a person to replace me. I offered to pay partial rent (maybe half? she wouldn't even talk numbers) and no utilities Dec-Jan since I will move out by Oct 31st, but she flat-out refused that idea. I then offered that we should come to a roommate agreement with everything detailed about chores and sharing spaces and cleaning up after her pets, but she refused that, too. She said the only thing she would do is clean up the cat poop in my closet and get the carpet in there cleaned. She also blamed me for the house being dirty, saying that if I had been around more often, she would have been cleaner. Riiiiiiight. Never mind that she has been dirty since day 1.

I am SO ANGRY that I have to pay her even though she will not work with me in any way to either improve the living situation or get me out of there. I think offering to pay half of my usual rent while she gets the entire house to herself (and can even take my bedroom which is larger than hers) is more than a fair deal, especially because she makes a lot of money and can afford the entire rent on her own if she wanted to. I know it's only a couple months, but to me that's a lot of money when I can't even live there. She always wins and I always end up caving and this is just another example. And unfortunately, unless I reported the illegal cats to the landlord and got us both evicted (which is not an option, I don't want an eviction on my record even if I don't live there) I have no legal options. :(
posted by brista at 11:28 AM on September 5, 2013

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